On the Prospect of a U.S. - China Cyber Detente

Anthony Freed
By | October 19, 2012

Posted in: Network Security Trends

The United States and the People's Republic of China have been engaged in a mini cold war of sorts for decades, quibbling over issues of military expansion, fair trade policies, and the future of the independent state of Taiwan. In recent years, nowhere has the contention between the two powers been greater than where cybersecurity is concerned.

But a new report issued by the EastWest Institute (EWI) indicates the two nations actually have more in common than not where cybersecurity issues issues are concerned, and lays out a strategy for diplomatic solutions that would serve to ease tensions and negate the need for more aggressive strategies in cyberspace.

In the report by EWI's Greg Austin and Franz-Stefan Gady, titled Cyber Detente Between the United States and China: Shaping the Agenda, the authors argue that much of the groundwork has already been laid for the two nations to come to terms over what would be deemed acceptable conduct in the cyber realm.

“We should have no illusions that the two countries will agree quickly to a set of military confidence building measures in cyberspace. But there is some room to lay the foundations to begin to bridge the bilateral divides by addressing issues that are closer to the civilian domain rather than exclusively military," said Austin in a email press release for the report.

The report recommends three proposals to facilitate the lessening of tensions:

  • Conducting a joint study on both nations' critical information infrastructure

  • The inclusion of China in the infrastructure of the 24/7 Network of Contacts for High-Tech Crime at the G-8

  •  Coming to a common understanding of what actually constitutes cyber espionage

“The challenge here, among many, is to deepen the conversations and reduce mistrust through enhanced transparency and predictability,” co-author Gady said.

The release of the EWI report is intended to coincide with the Third Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit being held in New Delhi, India, on October 30-31. The conference is designed to foster discussion on these and other major issues that affect relations between eastern and western nations.

The EWI was established in 1980 as "an international, non-partisan, not-for profit policy organization focused solely on confronting critical challenges that endanger peace," according to the organization. The full EWI report is available online here.

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